Skip to Content

Is One Really The Loneliest Number?

Is One Really The Loneliest Number?

The hit song, One, performed by Three Dog Night says it’s the loneliest number. 

But is that true, mathematically or figuratively?

We dug further into the song’s origins to find out whether or not one really is the loneliest number.

Let’s take a look!

Who Originally Wrote and Recorded One?

You’ve likely heard the version of One performed by Three Dog Night. However, it was Harry Nilsson, a prolific songwriter in the 1960s and 70s, who created and first recorded the song. 

Born in New York in 1941, Harry’s mom moved around quite a bit and spent quite a bit of time living with relatives. A teenage Harry eventually landed with his grandparents in Los Angeles. He dropped out of school, having no interest, and took a job at the famous Paramount Theater.

There, the live rock and roll performances charmed him and inspired him to learn piano. When the Paramount closed in 1960, Harry took a job at a bank and worked nights there while writing and recording demos. 

In 1967, Nilsson released his first album, Pandemonium Shadow Show to critical acclaim. He wrote for many artists including The Monkees and became good friends with members of The Beatles. In fact, John Lennon once named him as his favorite American singer and Paul McCartney as his favorite American “group.”

In spite of his excellent voice and songwriting ability, Harry never made it big as a singer or musician. He’s most appreciated for the lyrics he created for others. 

However, he did win two Grammys, one for Everybody’s Talkin’ and the other for Without You, which was also #1 on Billboard for five weeks. Everybody’s Talkin’ made it to #2 and two other tunes spent a minute in the top ten.

One is by far his most successful hit because of the cover by Three Dog Night.

How Did Nilsson Create One?

Harry wrote One after calling someone and getting a busy signal. Something triggered and he stayed on the line listening to the beep, beep, beep while writing the lyrics.

We wonder if he was feeling lonely and calling that someone to talk to, but we’ll likely never know.

Nilsson released One on his 1968 album, Aerial Ballet. Listening to his version, you can clearly hear the phone’s busy tone in the background. Other versions don’t focus on the sound quite as much.

Hands down, Three Dog Night released the most well-known version of One. It’s a similar arrangement to Nilsson’s, though the ‘busy signal’ isn’t as prominent. 

The band, of course, brings their own rock-forward sound to the number compared to Harry’s softer, subtler recording. Listening to each, though, you feel like Nilsson really felt the lyrics. After all, he did write them. On the other hand, Three Dog Night’s vocalist, Chuck Negron, doesn’t quite seem to delve into the emotions as much.

Three Dog Night’s version came out on their first album in 1969 and was its second single. It peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned a gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA.)

Tell Me More About Three Dog Night

Vocalists Danny Hutton, Cory Wells, and Chuck Negron founded their band in 1967. Initially, they called themselves Redwood. But after a failed attempt to work with the Beach Boys’ label, Brother Records, they changed their name to Three Dog Night in 1968. 

At the same time, they hired drummer Floyd Sneed, bass player Joe Schermie, and keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon. They’d also brought in Ron Morgan on guitar, but he was quickly replaced with Michael Allsup.

Over the years, they received numerous awards and honors, including hosting Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve in 1972 and two Grammy nominations. 

Nine of their songs made it to Billboard’s chart, four of which were top ten. Their only two #1 hits were Old Fashioned Love Song and Black & White, spending 11 and 13 weeks at the spot respectively.

From the Muse: Three Dog Night still tours, though with a different line-up from the original. You can find show dates and purchase tickets through their website.

So, Is One Really the Loneliest Number?

There’s an ongoing debate as to whether one is the loneliest number or not. Literally. People all over the Internet pose mathematical ‘proofs’ and forums have endless threads on the topic. 

We suggest that any single person in a group or by themselves can be lonely. And, on the other hand, one person can be very happy being alone. In our way of thinking, zero is the only number that can’t be lonely because it’s nonexistent. 

But, we’re getting a little too philosophical here. So let’s wrap this up. 

On the Other Hand, One Isn’t So Lonely

Harry Nilsson certainly didn’t seem lonely after writing and recording One. He had many friends and admirers worldwide. And Three Dog Night made it big partly because of the hit cover. But were they still lonely at times?

We submit that one can be lonely, and one can be happy. But it’s not necessarily the loneliest number. That debate’s still going. What do you think?